Friday, March 8, 2013

Empowering Fearless Birth Event

I never blog about anything when I plan to, because I'm the total worst. If you only knew the circus parade of posts I plan in my mind but eventually abandon because time rushes on too fast before I get around to writing, the waste of brain-paint would make you weep. But even though I'm writing this almost two months later, it was too important not to document here, and I want my friends to receive public credit for their work. Most sincerely, every link in this post is a doorway to a beautiful and cherished part of my life, with friends who I love dearly. 

 So, my friend Sarah Asay is The Entrepreneu-est and has a thousand successful businesses. One of her many talents is videography, and in the last few years she has become dedicated to filming birth stories. She ended up coming to Chai's birth very last minute; I hadn't intended to have my birth filmed, but oh! I was so happy it worked out! Laurel asked me while I was in labor if I wouldn't mind Sarah coming and taking some footage, since at the time she was planning on making a documentary about birth. I knew how busy Sarah was and expected it might be years before I saw the footage, if ever, and I kind of forgot about it, except for the happy result that Sarah coming to Chai's birth really bonded us and created a friendship.

Last spring, Laurel invited me and Jonathan over along with some other friends to see the final edited film of her birth with Scarlet, which was gorgeous and amazing, and then they surprised me by premiering Chai's film, too, right after. I didn't recognize it until I saw our house and I was SO touched that my friends had planned to surprise me. They had also chosen my favorite song to use in the film without knowing how much the song meant to me. A few months later, after Laura and Wendy had their babies, we had a huge girls night for the premier of their birth movies with a ton more people. We sat on mattresses on the floor, brought treats to share and told our stories until late in the night. This winter, Sarah had two more birth stories to share, Sparrow's and a little boy named Asher's. This time, Sarah, Laura, and Wendy decided to make the premier more than a girls' night, but a community event dedicated to promoting fearless and empowered birth.

It started out being about the films, but soon grew even bigger. Laura (who is a childbirth class instructor and owns Hypnobirthing Utah) had the idea to invite vendors to buy booth space and make the event like an expo, with door prizes, drawings, and products and services available so that guests who were interested in pregnancy and birth could connect with birth professionals. They created a committee of women with compatible strengths and we met once a week to organize and plan for the big night (March 8th). Sarah and Beth contacted vendors and sponsors, there was a sub committee that just focused on the creation of a desert bar, we all got together the night before to arrange the food and put together gift bags with promotional items for the guests, and in the weeks before we constantly promoted the event online. That night, nearly 400 PEOPLE were in attendance. It was amazing!

There were so many fantastic booths, from midwives, doulas, birth photographers, yoga instructors, massage therapists, sellers of accessories, baby clothes, cloth pads, custom skin care products and health food. The Healing Group had a booth about the therapeutic services they offer women. All of the vendors donated prizes that guests could enter raffles for. For me one of the highlights of the evening was seeing a friend from high school who had driven all the way from North Ogden to attend and make some connections that could help her plan a VBAC. I also got to meet Kristen Hodson of the SLC Healing Group, one of my feminist heros, and she had heard about the postpartum group I facilitate (The Afterbirth)! She told me that the Healing Group periodically offers postpartum support groups but that attendance is spotty, and for my group to consistently have people attending for over a year is extremely rare. She said "You must be doing something right."

The venue ended up being a little small for how many people came, but when we began the "program" everyone became very quiet and respectful. Sarah, Abby (Asher's mother) and I got to speak briefly before the films were shown. Unfortunately I don't have Abby's words, but this is what Sarah and I shared:

RACHEL (I read this verbatim since I am not to be trusted to stay on topic when public speaking, or ever, really): There is so much I could say about my little girl’s birth, and probably would, except I wrote it down so I would not deviate from the thoughts I wanted most to share with you.

Everything I could say would probably fall under two ideas: One, that it was HARD, and that reminded me that I can do hard things, and two, I wasn’t alone. I kept thinking during my surges when they were the most intense that so many, many women throughout time and all over the world have felt exactly that same way I was feeling right then.. And even though I might not have a single other thing in common with those women, that’s something we will always share, is the knowing of what that feels like and how vulnerable it makes you and how all-encompassing it is in those moments of labor and birth. . I honor every single woman who has
ever experienced that and brought a baby into the world, because it is amazing and it is hard.

I’m grateful that I had the experience of feeling completed supported during my birth by my husband and by many loving doulas and sisters. They did all kinds of wonderful, loving things for me during my labor—pulled up my hair, gave me counterpressure on my hips, back and shoulders, held my hands, pushed on pressure points to take off the edge of the surges, stroked my face, moaned with me, sang to me, told me over and over again how well I was doing, but what really struck me as the loveliest and most amazing thing they did was just how completely present they were with me. They stayed with me and they didn’t leave me alone. I felt they were carrying me through those surges.

During Sparrow’s birth I kept telling everyone that I couldn’t imagine being by myself, I couldn’t imagine going through that experience without those arms around me. I would wish that amount of love and support for everyone, because it gave me courage and light that has lasted with me for weeks. I haven’t felt lonely, I haven’t felt defeated, even when it’s gotten hard, I remember how I felt during the births of both my babies and I remember who I am. During the process of giving birth to my daughter, I found strength that assures me that even though I don’t know the answers to all my questions, even though I know that disappointment, pain, and loss will find me, I know I can do this. I am a strong person, I am a person worth listening to. I can find a way to make it work with 2 babies, I can find a way to survive the difficult moments, I can find a way to become the person I was meant to be, and I love my life and I love myself. Thank you for letting me share this with you!

SARAH: Thank you for being here. As you can imagine, the plot of these films are always the same. Though I try to show as much raw energy as possible, I take care to make sure my angles are discreet and respectful.

It was such an honor to be at the births of Asher and Sparrow. Abby, Asher’s mama, was patient and strong over the course of her 48 hour labor. She was patient with her body and connected to her baby. Labor started the day before Josh’s birthday on December 29thand Asher was born on the 31st. Being the accountant he is, I bet Josh was thrilled with his new little tax deduction. And be sure to notice in the film how Josh never leaves Abby’s side.

After Asher was born, Abby insisted that the midwife wait to cut the cord, wait to put medicine in Asher’s eyes and wait to weigh him. And the midwife and hospital respected her wishes all the way. Way to go, Abby!

Exactly a month later and on Sparrow’s daddy’s birthday, I got the call to go witness Sparrow’s birth. Rachel is such a beautiful person- inside and out- those of you who know her love to tell the story of how at her first birth, she graciously thanked those in the room for helping her through each surge. Her second birth was no different, and we felt drawn into her peaceful presence. She even had a breakfast spread for her birth team to enjoy during her labor. She labored beautifully and never had a moment when someone wasn’t holding or caressing her.

I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be in your presence and share with you something so close to my heart. I believe birth is sacred and probably one the most empowering moments in a woman’s life. Birth must be protected. Birthing women must be supported and loved during the entire journey- both during the labor and the weeks after. Notice I didn’t say “natural birth”. While I’m personally so afraid of needles that I’d do natural birth over an epidural every day, that is not the sentiment of many women. No matter how a woman gives birth- in home, in a hospital with an epidural or by c-section, it needs to be a respected and fearless experience. Since birth is not generally revered in our culture as the awesome experience it can be, many women need to see birth portrayed this way in order to change the stigma. Think Inception. Loved that movie! Changing the way birth is treated by the healthcare industry won’t happen until women are confident and empowered enough to demand to be treated respectfully and gently during birth.

I had two traumatic births with my first two children and then two empowered and peaceful births with the second two. The 3rd birth was healing beyond belief and the fourth changed my entire being. What those births have done for my marriage, my mothering, and my confidence! My soul feels at peace. But it took a lot of time and work to heal. The journey to healing was really rough. Really really rough. It hurts to see other women wresting with the trauma from similar experiences.
The Healing Group is not here by mistake. They support my vision of healing birth trauma. Birth trauma is no respecter of status, and sadly sometimes the women who need it the most can’t afford the care they need. Please consider donating to the Healing Group tonight to help defray the cost of mental health services for women who desperately need them. I will personally match every donation dollar for dollar up to $200 this evening.

And now the films.
Here are  the links to Asher's and Sparrow's films, so you can kind of follow along at home. :)

When the films were shown, everyone went totally silent, and many people were in tears afterward. I stood next to my friend Kelli, squeezing Jonathan's hand and holding my lovely baby who was one of the stars of the evening (she didn't care, and fell asleep during Asher's film). Our friend David was also with us and my sister and my parents behind me. My mother cried and hugged me and said "It's so beautiful, the birth of a child, it's a miracle every time." I remember thinking as I was watching the screen, I never expected anything like this to happen to me in my life. It was such a unique, bizarre, exciting experience. When the films were over, there was thunderous applause and a tangible energy in the room that was unifying, soulful. We were a crowd of mostly strangers, but we were connected in bearing witness to those holy moments, silently acknowledging how much they mattered, and I believe many would agree with me that we felt a little less like strangers after that.

I had so many people come up to me afterwards and tell me they loved the film, and then begin to talk about their own births and pregnancies, their hopes and disappointments. I LOVED THAT! That was my wish, for the film to be an impetus for introspection and placing more value on one's own story, that the emotions present would cause reflection.

  Some have asked me since then if showing my the film of my daughter's birth in such a public way felt intrusive, but on the contrary, I was delighted to share images of a positive, loving birth with such a large audience. I think my Sparrow's birth was beautiful and the world is in desperate need of more beauty, more hope, more intimacy with other human beings, and her birth presented all of those things. I wrote a post for Sarah's blog about why birth films can be healing for society that summarizes my philosophy on this.

My friends are amazing. I am so grateful to know them. They are the most powerful women, and their drive and ambition makes me want to do more with my life, push myself, find out what I really have to offer. They are women who will move things in this world. The fact that this event was so successful and HUGE when it was put together in exactly one month tells me that our community is hungry for things like this, and it makes me feel like absolutely anything can happen, as far as being the change you want to see in the world, doing things that make you come alive, etc.  Sarah is already working on her next event for September.

I want to thank everyone who came that night and most especially the planning committee who were themselves MOST empowered and fearless. I know it consumed a lot of your lives during those week and I want you to know how your efforts were appreciated!

Katie Rasmussen's mouth watering skin luxuriating products. She made me a custom blend that smells like sunshine and all of my dreams. Jonathan calls it "Essence of Racher."

Ruthie's cloth pads, featuring Shannon of Eco-Cotton Baby!  

Beth and Ruthie both worked so hard on this event that if I tried to list everything they did, I would insult them, because I know there's a lot I don't even know about...thank you both!!!!

 My midwife Richelle talking to my friend Rachel who I met in 6th grade. 

 Abby, me + Sarah
 Beautiful Crystal, and behind her, a glimpse of the desert bar!

I included this picture because unfortunately I don't have any pictures with Rachel Joy Jackson, who also helped with the event, but this is Jonny Strange talking about capitalism with her husband Keith, and that's the closest I got. You should check out her blog though. She is zealously crafty and her writing is very uplifting.
 Faby and Kelli, who are good friends with each other from their MSW program at the U and who I became friends with separately. This is the first time we were all together! It was magical! And we all had babies within about 4 months of each other this year. 
 Cara with a henna Connor belly!
I love this picture of Shannah Thunder and her little boy. 

1 comment:

Brenda said...

Reading about it makes me sad I didn't go. Way to go on being such a huge part of this Rachel!. I'm interested in Sarah's story. So glad it went so amazingly well!